by Jonathan Rockoff •
Youth coming out of foster care face many challenges as they transition into adulthood. That’s in normal times. Has the uncertainty of COVID added to the difficulty of this transition?
To learn about COVID’s impact on youth transitioning from foster care to independence, I reached out to Michelle Blackmon, Program Coordinator at Fostering Bright Futures. Based at Wake Tech Community College, Fostering Bright Futures provides tutoring, mentoring, and financial support to help former foster youth pursue higher education. With Michelle’s help, I connected with five foster care alumni, now enrolled at Wake Tech, to hear how COVID-19 has affected them and their plans for remaining happy and healthy. (This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
How has COVID-19 changed your plans?
Student 1: COVID changed my plans slightly. The big things it changed were my travel plans and now I spend less time with friends and family.
“I spend less time with friends and family.”
Student 2: Although many of the things I was looking forward to have been canceled or changed, I realize things could be worse. I wanted to experience graduating by getting to walk the stage, but that didn’t happen. I wanted to go on my trip that was planned as a celebration for graduating, but that got canceled. I was also laid off from my job, which really affected me emotionally.
Student 3: It’s affected my mental health. I have been unable to attend three funerals, which has hindered my grieving process. It has strained relationships with people who are not following safety guidelines. Even though I long to see my friends and hug them, I don’t trust that their definition of quarantine is the same as mine. I have a funeral this week for the 5th person I know that has died during this time. I will go, but I have a lot of anxiety about the guidelines that will be followed and not being able to comfort my best friends and parents.
“It has strained relationships with people who are not following safety guidelines.”
Educationally, I had to start online classes, which was not easy. My spring semester was extended by three weeks to make up for the lost time/extra week for the school to get a plan together. That caused my summer courses to start immediately after the spring courses.
Student 4: I put in my two weeks’ notice at my restaurant job because of the stress and tension caused by COVID-19.
Student 5: COVID-19 made me realize how quickly things can change. Fortunately, I have a support team that consists of Ms. Michelle (Blackmon), the rest of the Fostering Bright Futures team, the Hope Center at Pullen, my aunt, and my boyfriend.
What are you doing to remain happy and healthy in 2020?
Student 1: Aside from losing my job, I think this time helped me get back in touch with myself. I do a lot more outdoor activities and my physical and spiritual health has been improving. I try to keep a positive attitude and not give up. I realize it’s not easy for anyone right now and I want to do as much as I can to help my friends and family.
“I am still pursuing my dreams.”
Student 2: I am still pursuing my dreams. I have found that looking forward to things is the best piece of advice I have for staying motivated and healthy during these times. My parents and family have been a support during COVID-19.
Student 4: Personally, it has really helped me realize I need time to myself—I blocked off a day for self-care.
The transition from foster care to independence was already difficult to navigate. Clearly COVID-19 has made it even harder for youth. But despite the new challenges they have faced, I’m struck by their ability to bounce back and keep moving forward. If anyone understands resilience, it’s these youth and young adults.
Jonathan Rockoff is a Training Specialist with the Family and Children’s Resource Program at the UNC School of Social Work.